sun 18/04/2021

First Person: conductor Johannes Vogel on Beethoven’s Ninth as re-orchestrated by Mahler | reviews, news & interviews

First Person: conductor Johannes Vogel on Beethoven’s Ninth as re-orchestrated by Mahler

First Person: conductor Johannes Vogel on Beethoven’s Ninth as re-orchestrated by Mahler

The importance of celebrating the anniversary year’s end with a bang

Large forces at last at Vienna's Synchron Stage

Think of the finale at a big fireworks show: the anticipation; the build up. There is nothing bigger than the Ninth Symphony. It is the climax of this year’s Beethoven celebrations.

Think of the finale at a big fireworks show: the anticipation; the build up. There is nothing bigger than the Ninth Symphony. It is the climax of this year’s Beethoven celebrations. A year ago, no-one would have expected 2020 to be turned upside down in the way that it has, with so few concerts being held in Europe. Optimism is growing and what better way to bring joy into people’s lives than with a colossal event celebrating one of the greatest composers of all time?

As conductor of the 123-strong Sychron Stage Orchestra for the performance, I wanted to be able to lead a concert so magical that the audience are transported into a place of joy, hope and courage. The musicians and I have invested our lives into this aim and what matters most to us is that we are able to whisk people out of the pessimistic mindset of 2020 and into musical serenity. Positivity is essential for the mind and in turn, I guarantee it will boost your immune system.

With Beethoven, it almost feels like revisiting an old friend and I take comfort in knowing that we share the same roots. Beethoven was a German composer who lived in Austria. I grew up in Vienna and I am familiar with the nature spots where he used to walk and drink the glorious wine. This sense of familiarity brings me happiness and I take delight in celebrating his music with friends. The decision to perform Mahler’s re-orchestration of the Ninth Symphony synchronised perfectly in my mind. Together, they are two of my most admired composers, both visionaries and genius. Mahler was a master of sound, a great orchestrator. His symphonies are very much influenced by Beethoven. He should be admired in his bravery to bring Beethoven through time with the use of the early modern 20th century instruments heard in his orchestration. Johannes VoglerIn my mind, this is not merely a re-orchestration. Instead, I see it as a very delicate adaptation to modernity, specifically an introduction to modern instruments. Metal string enhancements created a much louder sound and brass instruments came to play chromatic melodies. If you don't know the symphony well, you wouldn't notice it at all but trust me, you will definitely feel it. The “modern” element to Beethoven’s work focuses on rhythm, timing, relations and minimalism. On the other hand it engulfs you and is full-on volume-wise. A variety of antitheses exists in his music - indeed it is classical but is also incredibly romantic. A real game-changer.

This year really has been a special year, marked by so much devastation and irreversible change but also signified by the huge celebration of Beethoven’s 250th anniversary. 200 ago, his Ninth Symphony had a seismic impact. We now live in extremely challenging times and hope for more positivity and optimism. Everything changes and nobody knows what the next months will look like. And so, this symphony represents the resilience of the human spirit: full of courage and vision, hope and joy. If anything, I must recognise the benefits that livestreaming will bring as we will be able to share our concert with millions across the globe, thanks to On Air’s high quality filming and broadcast. Filming Beethoven/Mahler 9Every cloud has a silver lining and we are thrilled about the possibility of sharing Beethoven with thousands of people - more than a concert in Vienna ever could. The symphony itself is that very burst of joy which we all crave. Not only does this concert take place during a lockdown but it will also be the only concert where the Ninth Symphony is performed since the virus took hold of Europe. The benefits to this concert are endless. I have so much gratitude for On Air for making this happen.

Indeed, the challenge came when we had to make the concert as safe as possible to adhere to Covid safety guidelines. Thankfully, we are fortunate to perform at The Synchron Stage which is a huge recording studio especially suited to recording big orchestral music. Due to this, we are able to position the musicians safely, with lots of distance between one another and still the sound will be fantastic. I am so delighted at the opportunity to conduct such a significant event where together, millions can enjoy and appreciate one of Beethoven’s finest works, with a Mahler twist. It will give him the send-off that his 250th birthday truly deserves.

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